The City Magazine Since 1975

40 Lowcountry Luxuries

September 2015
40 Lowcountry Luxuries
How do you define “luxury”? Perhaps it’s an occasional indulgence, or a unique experience, or even something exceptionally comforting. Curious to know the Charleston-centric response, we queried our Facebook fans for their favorite Lowcountry indulgences—large or small, expensive or priceless—and these are the results. Look for their quotes throughout this roundup of things (listed in no particular order) that make us fantastically lucky to live here

1. Access to a beach house

Most of us live within easy driving distance of a variety of beaches, but true luxury is not having to make the commute to Sullivan’s or Folly, especially in the traffic-clogged throws of tourist season. Whether you claim your own digs on one of our barrier islands, have friends with an open-door policy, or plunk down the funds for a weekly rental, it’s pretty darn wonderful to walk out the door and take a stroll on the beach, anytime you like.


2. The smell of pluff mud

“Pluff mud. It is the mother sauce of all things Lowcountry. A fecund base from which the bounty of the marsh springs forth to generate the ecosystem that makes this place unique. It emits a fragrance described as either repulsive or nostalgic depending on your point of view.”


—Buff Ross, from “Odes to the Lowcountry,” February 2014


3. Barn Jams at Awendaw Green

One of the Lowcountry’s most magical musical venues is hidden away on Highway 17 North, sprawling pond-side beneath pine trees and oaks. Every Wednesday night, folks from all walks of life gather at Awendaw Green, toting kids, dogs, and coolers of beer to catch five or so acts. Just hand your $5 donation over to the friendly gatekeeper; line up for a made-to-order wood-fired pizza; and snag a chair, picnic table, or even swing for one of the most authentically cool experiences around.


4. Folbot Canoes

Surrounded as we are by water, wouldn’t it be great to keep a kayak at the ready, say stowed in your trunk, for a spontaneous park-the-car-and-hop-in-the-creek paddle? Well, for a cool $1,100, a folding canoe manufactured right here in North Charleston can be yours. Folbot, an 82-year-old company based in town since the 1950s, produces 10 styles of aluminum-frame boats (covered in durable fabric) that collapse into backpacks for loads as light as 24 pounds.

“A Folbot canoe that would fit in my Mini.”
—‪Jamee Thomas Haley


5. Local handmade jewelry

A wearable work of art handmade right here at home? It doesn’t get more luxe than that. We’re fortunate to have myriad jewelry designers in Charleston, whose styles range from Sarah Amos’ classic 22K gold pieces with precious and semiprecious stones to Kate Davis’ casually refined beach-chic accessories to Christina Jervey’s organic forms in sterling silver, 14K gold, and 14K gold plate. Love vintage? Deirdre Zahl’s Candy Shop Vintage has you covered. Prefer a little edge? Angela Hall’s sophisticated contemporary works and IV&G’s “Instinct” and “Judith” lines are beautifully rebellious. Take your pick among the variety of styles and price points, or go for the ultimate indulgence, a custom piece designed just for you.


6.“Waves.”—Bates Hagood

And Bates should know. He’s a surfer and the general manager at Ocean Surf Shop who delivers the daily surf report from Folly. The waves are typically small, he says, maybe getting to thigh-high as the tide fills in—not exactly conducive for ripping action. But when the conditions are right—say a Bermuda High trade-wind swell arrives or there’s a storm offshore—you’ll see every surfer worth his or her salt racing to the washout.


 

7. Pickled anything from The Pickle Lady

If you’ve been to the Charleston Farmers Market on a Saturday morning, you likely have encountered Raychelle Bennett, who offers up a plethora of free samples to anyone who wanders near her booth. Take her up on a taste of a hot kosher dill, and she’ll quickly follow with a regular dill “to cool you down.” The affable Bennett will chat you up as she offers her wares, cukes and okra in many flavors, as well as pickled carrots, squash, and beets. As crave-worthy as her eats are, we have to agree with reader Robin Howard, who said, “Interacting with Raychelle is the real little luxury; the pickles are a by-product.”


8. Sweetgrass baskets

The skill of sewing sweetgrass baskets—brought to the New World by enslaved West Africans—has been practiced here for more than 300 years. Made from native grasses, palmetto fronds, and longleaf pine needles, these vessels that once served utilitarian purposes are now treasured works of art. Sure, they can be pricey, but as each one-of-a-kind basket requires many hours of painstaking craftsmanship, they’re worth every penny.

“I love the Market and chatting with the ladies making sweetgrass baskets. My luxury is buying one every time I come to Charleston.”—‪Jennifer Haught Rupe‪


9. A parking spot downtown

You’re heading out for a night downtown with just the right amount of time to make your 7 p.m. reservation... until you spend another 25 minutes circling the block like a tourist with an out-of-state plate. Ah, to own your own parking space—a local indulgence that some are even willing to spend $98,000 a year on. Other spots in downtown lots can be had for $50 to $225 a month. But, of course, not everyone has the pocket change for that kind of amenity, which makes finding that rare spot right in front of the restaurant all the sweeter.


10. Centuries-old live oaks

Magnificent live oaks define the Lowcountry landscape, offering poetic structure to our vistas, shade on scorching summer days, and shelter for myriad plants and animals. Many, such as the Angel Oak on John’s Island (opposite), have survived for centuries, bearing witness to our collective histories and outlasting destructive forces of both man and Mother Nature. Sit a spell beneath one and pay tribute to its majestic beauty and grace.

 

11.“Miles and miles and miles of navigable creeks and rivers where one can be alone and refresh the mind, body, and soul.”‬
—‪James Warrington


12. The Edisto oyster knife

It took Lowcountry native Chris Williams years to create the ultimate oyster knife, but in the “Edisto” he found perfection. The award-winning design, which has been wowing clients like Toby Keith and Harry Connick Jr. since 2009, is touted both for its beauty and utility. At $300, these blades aren’t cheap, but you can select the wood, trim, and even the type of pin (pictured is curly maple with Himalayan ram’s horn). Find them at www.williamsknife.com or at Charleston Angler and Southern Season.


13. Philip Simmons ironwork

Perhaps you lucked into a downtown house with a wrought-iron gate or window grille by the late master artisan still intact. Or maybe you inherited a piece handcrafted by the man who helped define the city’s decorative-arts heritage. With some 600 works known to exist, chances are unlikely that you’ll find an original Philip Simmons on eBay or the like, but you can easily purchase a trivet, wall hanging, or piece of silver jewelry modeled after his designs from the Philip Simmons Foundation (philipsimmons.us).


“A large piece of Philip Simmons ironwork that he gave as a gift to my dad—priceless.” —Sonya Livingston


lux14. Bill Murray sightings

“No one will ever believe you. I’m famous,” the slightly disheveled man says to the unsuspecting someone, as he cuts in line to steal her Starbucks. He’s wrong: these off-the-wall Bill Murray encounters are frequent enough that people do believe. But he’s right about being famous. To be punked by the beloved Bill is considered a great luxury in Charleston. Sightings (reliable haunts include Rutledge Cab Company, RiverDogs games, and Charleston Music Hall concerts) are exhilarating. And the same can be said when paths cross with other local “celeberati”: Darius Rucker, Daryl Hall, and Steven Colbert, though none of them have stolen our tall latte—yet….


15. Dressy parties

The only thing people in Charleston like better than having a good time for any number of great causes is dressing for the occasion. Once social season kicks into gear in September, hardly a week goes by without a gala or themed charitable event. Bring out the bow-ties and baubles!


16. Measuring time by the tides

Ditch your watch, silence your smartphone, and let Mother Nature set the pace.


17. Capers Blade oysters

Here in the Lowcountry, we love our oysters—typically pluff-mud-caked clusters pulled from local waters and roasted on a metal sheet over an open fire. We thought there was nothing better—until “Clammer Dave” Belanger introduced his Capers Blades, that is, and we’ve been thrilled to gulp those briny singles raw. Belanger harvests them from beds near Capers Island Wildlife Refuge and culls them by hand into single selects, using a chisel-and-stone process. After another dip in the ocean, the oysters are placed in special racks where the surface waters of Capers Inlet clean them of sediment and silt while allowing the shells to lengthen and the flesh to fully expand. Slurp these beauties on the half shell at area eateries, such as Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar, or go for The Ordinary’s ultimate rendition, Oyster Moscow topped with sour cream, Hackleback caviar, and a splash of Stoli.


18. Fresh shrimp off the boat

Whether you cast your own net or regularly pick up a few pounds from your favorite seafood shop, fresh local shrimp has been a culinary must for generations. (In fact, it was the number one most-listed luxury among our Facebook followers!) We love it pickled or simply served peel-n-eat style with plenty of Old Bay. But if you want to be truly decadent, shrimp and grits is the way to go. There are countless renditions of this Charleston receipt, but our longtime fave, Robert Stehling’s version at Hominy Grill, showcases the briny crustaceans alongside cheese grits, bacon, and mushrooms. Click here’s for his recipe.


19. Secret gardens and pathways

Hidden from tourists and traffic are the city’s tucked-away lanes and alluring alleys. One of our favorites is the Unitarian Church’s seemingly secret garden path (actually a section of the Garden Club’s Gateway Walk). Enter through the wrought-iron gate across from the Charleston Library Society. A brief walk leads to the church’s wild garden-graveyard, where the sun peeks in and out of the overgrown branches of heirloom flora of all sorts. Open dawn to dusk, it’s the perfect place to escape the heat and hustle and chill under the canopy.


20. Inherited or estate jewels

Southern foodways maven Nathalie Dupree, among other readers, suggested “Heirloom jewelry from Croghan’s and Joint Venture jewelers.” We have to say that not only does Nathalie know food, she knows jewels, too! Whether you inherited your grandmother’s1920s-era gold locket that you’ve coveted since you were a girl or found a similar Art Nouveau version at the King Street jewel box that is Croghan’s, wearing a piece of family or decorative-arts history is a timeless, priceless joy.


21. “When the marsh becomes our trees. —Melissa Wahlquist BradshawThe changing of seasons is subtle in the Lowcountry. There’s no fiery show of autumnal foliage, nor bursting forth of blooms through snowy fields to mark the passage of time. Here, we must pay attention to less conspicuous clues, like the gradually shifting hues of the marsh grass. Spring is heralded by neon green shoots emerging on the flats, and you know fall is on its way when yellows and oranges begin to highlight the typically verdant expanses.




22. Swinging porch beds

“A glass of wine and good book on the porch swing.” —Lesley Meenach Rathbun

23. Golf cart

From sleek, street-legal varieties with room for a crowd to the basic, open-air four-seaters that look straight off the course, golf carts are a ubiquitous extravagance, signaling laid-back, resort-style living all over the Lowcountry—the peninsula, the islands, and even suburban neighborhoods. To witness them en masse, attend Sullivan’s Island’s annual Independence Day Parade with carts and owners decked out in patriotic finery.

24. Rewined candles

Here’s a toast to the clever combination of two of our favorite indulgences: scented candles and wine! This Charleston-based company, which got its humble beginnings in founder Adam Fetsch’s West Ashley garage in 2008, is well-known among locals, and now with tastemakers the world over. Its handcrafted natural soy-wax candles—which blend aromas that mimic wine varietals, such as favorites Pinot Noir and Champagne, and are poured into recycled wine bottles—are carried in more than 1,000 stores, including 60 international locations. But we love that they are handcrafted right here and that Rewined collects and repurposes about 1,000 bottles from area restaurants each week. Cheers to that!


25. “Exotic wood storks soaring through our skies.” ---Linda Fantuzzo

Thirty years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to spy an American wood stork
(Mycteria americana) here. But thanks to conservation efforts, these large, majestic birds were removed from the endangered species list in June 2014. Although they are still threatened, the state’s Department of Natural Resources reported a record number of nests in South Carolina last year. In the fall, after the chicks have fledged, keep your eyes to the skies for this native species on the rebound.


26. She-crab soup

In 1909, Mayor Goodwyn Rhett’s cook, William Deas, stirred up the now legendary bisque topped with decadent roe for a dinner for President Taft. That recipe later made Everett’s Restaurant on Cannon Street famous in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Today, “she-crab” soup might draw from any local crabmeat, but it’s still silky and rich when done right. We especially love Roadside Seafood’s take on the historical Charleston dish—pale and creamy with plenty of crab, plus drizzles of sherry and whiffs of mace. It’s rich but not cloying and served with a few packs of Captain’s Wafer Crackers to crumble on top.


 

27. A boat

“You can’t really experience the area to the fullest degree without a boat. The marsh creek highways provide a landscape that surpasses anything you would ever experience here in a car.” —Dayton Colie“We have just a small, old, plain little creek boat, and I literally cried when we got it. Being able to be on the water is priceless to me.” —Rebeccah Williams Connelly‪


28. Church bells

Every Sunday, joyous music pours from three downtown churches—St. Michael’s, The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, and Grace Episcopal—as well as Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island, when parishioners gather to sound their change-ringing bells. Following numerical changes called “methods,” each band member pulls a rope attached to a wheel that rotates the bell full circle, creating a sound that only comes from some 50 churches in the country. It’s a rare treat indeed, and one we can enjoy for free, whether from pew, park bench, or Holy City sidewalk.


29. “Top of IOP connector when you first see the ocean.” —Rachelle Smith‪


30. Homegrown tomatoes

Not much is better than a juicy tomato freshly plucked from the vine, whether you grew that ‘Big boy’ in your backyard or picked up some Wadmalaw Fuglies from farmer Shawn Thackeray (pictured here). Eat ’em sliced on white bread with mayo or in this summer recipe from John’s Island’s Tomato Shed Cafe.

Click here for Dave’s Tomato Pie recipe, from the former chef at John’s Island's Tomato Shed Cafe.


31. Original local art

Contributing editor Stephanie Hunt weighed in on this category popular among our Facebook responders, writing, “Original art from Lese Corrigan, Tate Nation, Mary Edna Fraser, Ann Balzac Keane, Jill Hooper, West Fraser, Jeff Kopish, Leslie Darwin Pratt-Thomas—actually those are necessities, not luxuries!” Whether you saved up for your very own piece or are just window-shopping at the galleries, know that the Lowcountry continues to inspire a variety of artists and it’s possible not only to purchase one of their works but get to know them as well.


32. The Charleston brogue


“The Charleston accent is one of the things I’ve come to love about the Lowcountry. It’s a low sound…. [that] seems to come from the bottom of the mouth, the jaw jutted just a bit, the lips a little pursed. Cooper becomes “cuppah,” house is “hoose,” and state, “stey-it.” …. I don’t have the space nor the credentials to delve into the glories of Gullah….. The number of full-blown speakers of the Gullah language on Wadmalaw Island or America Street or elsewhere in the Lowcountry may be in decline, but I’m happy to say that Gullah-inflected accents are carrying over into the next generation—like the young people at Burke High School who call me “Musta Sanchez.” But I worry that the accent of white Charlestonians will not endure as long as the single house.” —Jonathan Sanchez, from “Odes to the Lowcountry,” January 2010


33. Joggling boards

Part children’s toy, part porch rocker, part decorative element, this longtime asset to local piazzas and gardens is simply two wooden stands that have a long and supple plank sprawling between them. Joggling boards have delighted young and old here since the 1800s, and in the Victorian era, were jokingly called “courting boards,” favorite places for sweethearts to meet, with the gentleman on one end, the lady on the other. As they bounced, they’d gradually be brought closer to the middle—and each other. A traditional 16-footer will set you back several hundred dollars, but what price for taking part in a charming, Holy City tradition?


34. Concerts at the Cistern

Each spring, Spoleto Festival USA spreads a feast for the senses at our doorstep. And while sampling it all is part of the fun, one of the very best treats is a Wells Fargo Jazz concert in Cistern Yard. Dramatically lit, the College of Charleston’s 1820s Randolph Hall sets a majestic backdrop to the stage that tops the old cistern itself, with attendees taking their seats beneath the oaks for performances by legends (such as 2015’s Dianne Reeves) and up-and-comers alike. You might jump up to dance in the grass, or just kick back and revel as world-class music fills one of the city’s most charming places.


35. Parks

Whether you spend your weekends wandering the elevated boardwalks at Caw Caw Interpretive Center or evenings lazing under the sprawling oaks in Hampton Park, you know the beauty of our city’s green spaces. Between the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission’s almost 10,000 acres and Charleston Parks Conservancy overseeing more than 120 area parks, we have a bounty of oases, offering scenic places to play; picnic with friends; or to simply relax, unwind, and admire the splendor of the Lowcountry.


36. ‘‘Living within a short drive to watch the sunrise over the ocean. ’’ —Trudy Mercy Brown

Charleston Facebook followers offered many variations on this theme, from weekend playtime with the dog on Sullivan’s Island (Hollie Anderson) to walking barefoot on the beach on Thanksgiving day (Erin O’Gara Dollard) to “Mornings when I’m first on the beach and get to throw the starfish back into the sea” (Nanc Griffith). We couldn’t agree more, especially from Labor Day to Memorial Day!


37. Bulls Bay Sea Salt

The good folks at Bulls Bay Saltworks pull their products from the saline-rich waters of Bulls Bay (some of the cleanest waters on the East Coast), which are filtered through a Rube Goldberg-like solar and wind evaporation system. Though the process is complex, the results are haute cuisine-worthy. And Charleston chefs are taking notice of their smoked and au naturel varieties. “When we talk about local seafood, we talk of the ‘merroir’—the environmental factors that make the food unique,” says chef Mike Lata of FIG and The Ordinary. “Being able to season our dishes with Bulls Bay Saltworks—salt from our ocean—punctuates that experience.” Purchase the salt at Caviar & Bananas and Seewee Outpost, or www.bullsbaysaltworks.com.


38. The scent of tea olive trees in bloom

“If you’ve ever gotten a whiff of it, you understand; and if you haven’t, you have my pity. If you set out to find it, however, good luck. The plant is whimsical, blooming when it will; just when you’ve given up or forgotten its existence, it will ambush you with the sweetest smell imaginable. Not sickly sweet, but delicate—a faintly wistful smell, ripe apricots or something as unearthly as a ghostly harpsichord note or a happy memory.” —Harlan Greene, from “Odes to the Lowcountry,”
February 2014


 
39. “Crabbing with a cotton string tied around chicken necks (the stinkier the better), crab nets, and an old pair of sneakers to protect your feet in the water. Then taking your bucket of crabs home, steaming them, throwing them on newspaper, and digging in with melted butter.”
—‪Tricia Hitopoulos



The scientific name for the Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) tells it all—the Greek calli means “beautiful,” nectes means “swimmer,” and the Latin sapidus means “savory.” Indeed, these blue-hued creatures offer what many esteem as the sweetest, most delectable taste of the sea. Like the oyster roast, the Lowcountry crab crack is a time-honored tradition. Boiled or steamed crabs in their shells are piled atop a table, and diners use nutcrackers, mallets, and deft fingers to feast on the succulent white meat, especially delicious when dipped in hot melted butter.

40. “Coming home from anywhere wonderful and realizing that you’ve returned to an even better place.” —Bryan Hunter

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